Nowadays, almost every digital company relies on analytics to make business decisions: from the small things such as improving the website page to using the data to personalize user email campaigns.
There are various analytics programs available on the market that help to measure website and product use. Some of the popular ones are Google Analytics 4, Mixpanel, and Amplitude.
All of these tools gather various metrics by inserting a snippet of code on your website, including page views, sessions, new users, exits, and some others unique to your business niche.
Apart from these metrics available in the analytics tool by default, you can receive many other recommendations from your team or third-party advisers on what users’ actions you should track to understand customers better and grow your business.
In the end, you can find yourself looking at the dashboard with more than 20 different metrics, seeing different spikes and drops, but not understanding what’s happening with your business and, more importantly, what you should do after reviewing them.
Additionally, your team can end up focusing more on metrics than on actions. Here is a great example I found on the internet representing it.
At <FAANG mega-corp>, I used to work on an internal team which basically did nothing important, certainly nothing users ever think about.
The problem that we were trying to solve, well, we had already solved it about 3 years ago, yet the team was still expanding, and our product managers kept spitting out new (mostly useless) project ideas.
One of the main areas of focus was metrics. Leadership was obsessed with metrics, we measured everything. Not just plain empirical metrics (like # clicks), but also very complex metrics, theoretical models that we had data scientists work on, etc.
At some point maybe 25% of the team worked on metrics related stuff, it was crazy.
Why were they doing this? Was it only to keep us busy, so that the team can continue to grow? Or maybe they were desperately trying to find metrics by which they could prove the team was actually still doing meaningful work? I don’t know.
At some point I left, and moved on to a much smaller team. This team was working on a brand new product, one that customers actually pay money for!
As you can see from this example above, some companies are obsessed with metrics. They have dozens of metrics tracking different things and still add and add new ones quarterly.
There is another way of doing business analytics. Let’s explore how having fewer metrics that really matter to your business, and actionable metrics can benefit you and your team.
Benefits of having fewer metrics
Clarity means better focus
The focus is the first and most evident benefit you receive after applying a fewer metrics approach to your analytics.
Instead of having 20 or more metrics, you have 3-7 metrics. The dashboard becomes easier to read. Therefore, you start to check the dashboard periodically and see whether the metrics decrease or increase.
As a sequence of that, you start to figure out why the metrics increase or decrease and what to do to prevent this from happening or have it repeated.
Why are you not doing it with a 20+ metrics dashboard?
Because in the case of fewer metrics, every metric that you leave on the dashboard is important to you; it represents the business’s health. When you have 20+ metrics on the dashboard, some metrics are not important at all. In general, fewer metrics allow you to focus on the core part of your business and see clearly what drives success, and it doesn’t apply only to you but to your team, too.
When you provide 10+ metrics in OKRs, they don’t know the most important ones. Therefore, they start to focus on all of them, and as a result, you receive an unfocused team trying to improve multiple sections of your business not at 100% of their capacity, but rather at 10-20%. And, of course, the results are not as gorgeous as they would be if you had 100% of their attention on the core metrics.
Alternatively, with the fewer metrics approach, your team knows what metrics to review daily, and since all your team works on the same metrics, they start to ask more and more questions about the nature of these metrics, why they were selected, and, more importantly, why the metrics change in a specific direction weekly.
After they find answers to their first questions, they will organize their workload to work on projects that should improve core metrics. This can be searching for new acquisition channels or working with existing traffic and trying new marketing approaches to improve key metrics.
It’s where the work becomes much more interesting for everyone on your team. Everyone is on the same page and helps each other to boost the company’s growth.
As everyone starts to accomplish the first tasks to improve key metrics, many employees will start to check data to find real feedback on their actions, and, more importantly, they start to do a lot of data digging to understand what factors influence business metrics.
And when they start doing that, they will realize that the current dashboard has limitations. They start to ask the data team to add more and more filters, and parameters to the dashboard. They will want to answer their questions themselves when it’s possible without waiting for the data department to provide the data they need. They will want to have short access to stats to prove their assumptions, hypotheses, and ideas.
And it’s where your data team turns into a highly valuable business asset. They will provide a new type of dashboard – actionable dashboards.
An actionable dashboard is a type of dashboard that shares business data not for the sake of sharing, but in order to push you and your team to make more informed business decisions.
The core difference between actionable dashboards and other types of dashboards is that they clearly show you what you should do next and allow you to make an explanatory analysis yourself.
According to the Databox article, there are five key steps you can take to transform your existing dashboard into an actionable dashboard:
- Add Filters: The filters, parameters, and sort feature allows you to shape the dashboard data as you need. It also enables you to see how different segments of our users perform. By seeing their differences, you will start to ask questions, and it’s exactly what’s needed to transform you from a passive viewer to an active company participant.
- Aim for Specificity: The dashboard brings the most value when they are specific to a certain project or activity. It also aligns with the fact that every dashboard should be designed with a specific goal in mind. If the dashboard doesn’t follow it, it won’t be so helpful to you.
- Minimize Clutter: In order to make your dashboard actionable, you should transform it to include only the most important metrics according to the goal the dashboard should achieve. If you add too many, you won’t see clearly what to do next. Besides that, you also need to remove everything that’s not helping to make a decision, but distracting—for instance, any non-useful tooltips, images, and so on.
- Provide Context: It’s much easier to decide when you have a complete context about metrics, how they are calculated, and what exactly they represent. It’s also good to provide additional information on why these metrics are important and what level they should achieve.
- Choose Relevant Data and Visuals: It’s the last step that is very often missed. Sometimes, we select the wrong visuals to represent the data. For instance, we can use a donut chart for the data with 20 variables instead of the bar chart and many other things. In order to create an actionable dashboard, the visuals should be selected correctly.
As you can see from this list above, two out of five points rely on a fewer metrics approach: a) aim for specificity and b) minimize clutter. There is no possibility of having an actionable dashboard with many metrics.
Actions, actions, actions…
As a result of having actionable dashboards instead of sharing data for the sake of sharing, you (and your team) start to find clear ways where your business needs improvements.
You start to engage your team in concrete projects that will include, at least, the following parts:
- do research on “why” something is happening;
- create an action plan with all methods to improve it;
- build an execution plan, and assign sub-tasks to the right people.
As a sequence of that, you start to see how your team starts to spend much more time on project execution over data analysis, surveying, coding something for the sake of coding, and many other things happening in the majority of companies.
They also start to estimate the potential of the project before working on it. They will ask themselves whether this specific project will turn into concrete actions to improve metrics. And, if it’s not, they won’t work on it. For instance, if the team knows that they won’t be able to act on survey results they can send this quarter, they won’t send it because it will take their time, but not bring any value.
Fewer metrics mean less budget
Perhaps one of the less prominent benefits of having fewer metrics is cost. Even if you look at the main product and marketing analytics tools, you will see that their pricing very often depends on the size of the data you collect.
For instance, Mixpanel, one of the most famous product solutions, charges you per event the tool receives. So, if you want to collect more metrics, you need to send more events, and you will be charged more.
If we look at the most famous data warehouse – Google BigQuery, we also find that it charges you for the storage and execution time. Execution time also depends on the amount of data your dataset has. So, all in all, you pay for the size of the data.
Therefore, you will save some budget by having fewer metrics than many metrics.
How to improve the product by having fewer metrics
People who don’t believe in the fewer metrics approach usually mention that this methodology won’t allow them to find answers to all their questions on how to improve the business.
Let’s look at this one more specifically, because I believe fewer metrics will actually help you to improve your business and do it much faster, as was mentioned earlier in this article.
First, the question is not in the volume of data you have, but rather its relevancy. If you have 5-year datasets stored on BigQuery or another data warehouse and you’ve never touched it, does it mean this data is so important to you? Most likely, it’s not, and it generates monthly business costs that you could avoid.
Secondly, in the digital world, data can be generated quickly, in a few days or weeks. You don’t need to wait years to collect important data. Besides that, there are many solutions that you can use to analyze why something is happening. To mention some of them:
- user surveys, polls;
- session recordings;
- heat-, scroll- and click-maps;
- user interviews
- product demo calls
- support tickets
You can send a survey to users and ask them why they are behaving this way, or you can buy a Hotjar subscription, activate recordings for a few days, and see why something is happening.
The exciting aspect here is that you decide what data to collect and act upon because you have that focus, and you know that it’s the data you need. Additionally, you know that key actions will be done based on that to improve the product. Alternatively, you have a lot of data, but not so many actions.
To summarize, in order to run a business and improve it daily, there is no need to have many metrics.
Actually, you can jeopardize the business by having too many metrics because the team won’t be able to understand what all metrics stand for and, as a result, won’t be so productive.
Also, tracking less doesn’t mean you will lose the possibility to improve your business. Many tools are allowing you today to collect the necessary data quickly to improve your product.
Additionally, this will make you selective about what you are tracking, and you will try to tie your collected data with the next actions.
Eventually, it’s all about our actions, not data alone.